Following the outcome of the US election and the defeat of Mitt Romney, many women are today breathing great and heavy sighs of relief – grateful that their right to choose will remain protected.
But with the social stigma that continues to surround abortion unlikely to abate any time soon, there are still battles to be won.
Leslie Cannold had an abortion. Or maybe she didn’t. What does it matter? Why do you care?
By LESLIE CANNOLD
Look at the women around you – wherever you may be right now.
One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. And if you haven’t yet, you can stop looking at each other now.
We actually aren’t born feeling ashamed of anything. We’re not ashamed of our nakedness, we’re not ashamed of our bodily functions, our sexual desires, our reproduction or abortion. We learn, from our communities, what is shameful. And it is the real or perceived oversight of those communities that make us feel shame.
Now shame is about fear, but what are we afraid of?
In ancient times, if a woman brought shame on her name, or her family, or her community she could literally be thrown out of that community. Cast out. She could be stoned. In some places in the world today, that is still the case.
In our world, a woman might be afraid if people find out that she’s had an abortion that her church community will evict her. Or she might be worried that her family, or her boyfriend, or her husband might throw her out of the house. Or that her friends will start a whisper campaign about her.
But the thing is, that those fears all cut to something very, very essential about us; very, very primal. And indeed that is why shame is such an ancient form of social control. Because it actually goes to something that may be hardwired in us. Which is this desire to stay in connection with other human beings. Shame evokes the fear of disconnection.
I had an abortion. Or maybe I didn’t. Why do you care?
Silent women can’t ask for support. Two thirds of women fear that if others find out their abortion they will look down on them and so, nearly that number – 58 to 60% – don’t tell their friends and their family about their abortion and talk about their abortion little or not at all.
Silent women can’t share information. So if I reach out to someone and say “Oh my God, I’m pregnant when I don’t wanna be, I don’t know what to do” and someone says to me “Oh you know, that’s terrible, like that happened to me too and here’s how I felt and here’s how it went and I went to this clinic and it was terrific or I went to that one and it wasn’t so good but WHATEVER you do if you go to this one, be really careful because across the street, there’s a building that’s dolled up to look like the abortion clinic but it’s actually not an abortion clinic at all. It’s run by a pro-life agency and by the time you even work out where you are, they will have told you a whole bunch of false information about abortion, they may have told you you’re going to hell, and by the time you stumble out of there you’ll have missed your appointment.”
Silent women DON’T ask for the laws they need and deserve. And indeed this was actually how I came into the shame issue because I am an abortion rights activist. And in order to change the laws, to try to get things out of the law that hurt women, to try to put things into the law to protect women, I actually need to raise awareness amongst decision makers and amongst the public that there is a problem.